October 7, 2002
Two years back, almost exactly, I promised myself to be more myself, to be
here now in Ram Dass's classic phrase. Then, year one, we got an
appointed president. Year two, we got a terrorist attack. While the
president appointed in year one would have us believe that the attack was
THE event which changed the world, I sense that his anointment will prove
to be more remembered when history is again written.
The only point in mentioning these distractions is precisely that. For nearly two years now I have been distracted from my intention.
Many people come to this corner of Hawaii in search of many things, most of which remain external to them. I try to talk with people who seem to want to understand what it is like in this rural area. A key understanding is that successfully being here seems to require a kind of self-reliance in which doing without is not sacrifice but liberation, a freeing from distractions. And then I let myself be distracted yet again. When will I ever learn?
Some years ago, Morris Berman published a book, Coming to Our Senses. (1) He might have titled it "Returning to Our Senses, Realizing Our Selves." I mention Berman's book not so much because it says anything radically new or much different. It is, however, a useful summary.
I went to Harvard Business School primarily to learn about how people behave in groups and organizations. After a few more years within the hierarchies of business, it was clear to me that there was little probability, much less possibility, that I would find whomever I happened to be there. I didn't much like the Executive or Consultant me.
Circumstances then put me into the so-called human potential movement. I frequented places with names like Esalen, Kairos and Oasis. In the process, I met a lot of remarkable people.
Among the many peoples, names, practices, processes and theories which impressed me was that of Wilhelm Reich, a Austrian who was a close associate of Freud and Jung, et al., before breaking off onto his own paths. I say paths because he moved throughout his career into ever new directions. Directions which eventually led many as well as Morris Berman to focus on our somatic actualities. Then to expand into the cultural implications of what became known as the body-mind split.
Reich identified that experiences and emotions were locked, stored physically within the human body. Those locks became blockages to personal and societal development. Their collective splits combined into a superficially benign society covering thinly a barbaric streak too easily triggered.
At a very early age, Berman speculates it to be around three years, "consciousness" arrives as awareness of duality, in one essential sense. You and me, I and thee, us and them, . . . other is discovered to be outside of me. Reich would argue that the essential spitting came about within days, if not hours, of birth when the unity of being was lost, yanked away.
Berman and Reich and others agree that an outcome of the split is seen in nearly all cultures, seen in the creations of others finally as enemies. Reich, reeling from the oncoming of Hitler in Germany, summarized the actualities involved in his seminal work, The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Now sharply relevant yet again.
Reich evolved a therapy which sought to provide transcendent experiences of the unity self. His research also identified a universal life force which he named Orgone Energy.
I worked with practitioners and teachers of Reichean methods, finally gaining an essential understanding through work with his daughter, Eva.
Applying this learning, I stumbled onto two key aspects of the human condition. Both have to do with the locking in of experience. People with whom I worked would take themselves, with gentle suggestion and warmth of touch, into themselves to find moments of self-identity or self-realization, to be ecstatic, joyful and free. . . .
Being all those things and more, however, turned out to be as unacceptable to significant others in their lives as a baby being a child of God, to borrow a phrase. Not love prevailed.
Subsequently, these liberated people fought off the experiences, broke contact. Those who held onto themselves more often found divorce and unemployment than bliss on earth. Explain that.
Secondly, the teachers, practitioners and gurus of the Human Potential Movement found that their personal and financial survival came to depend more on stasis than growth. Followers needed them to provide a momentary high and then to let the go home to sober up for Monday.
Stashing the high became evident as a necessity. Take the people up a little but not really all that much. Titillate and tantalize. Keep careful control. Technique replaced process. The human potential movement imploded. Esalen, the only survivor among "growth centers," now depends as much or more on corporate training sessions as it does from its residual quasi-newage offerings.
I wandered off into Tibetans, Hindus, Sufis, Taoists and others who also claimed access to self and/or Self. Outcomes are about the same. Folks can find private or even in-group highs, but rarely are able to take them home or to work. There are no day-care centers for the Self. Surviving gurus are careful to keep control.
The next big effort came through substitutes and alternatives. The easy ones can be bought. Some are legal, some not. They come in cans, bottles, jugs, tins, lids, tabs, pills and snorts, if not tubes for smoking or sniffing. Those who get stuck on them also find divorce and unemployment. Twelve-step programs proliferate.
Among somewhat successful alternatives are various "spiritual" paths. Groups like the Krishnas (ISKON et al.) substitute bhakti yoga for illicit substances. As long as one stays with it, it works, to a degree. Down the line, the Krishnas (and too many others of a similar vein) get into creating their own "others," too often within their splinterings. I call that stage of organizational process a "fascist" phase. The lists of imported gurus grow ever longer as do the splinterings.
So, moving along, folks drift back into the mainstream. Families, debt, jobs, debt and routine serve to submerge the drive to self. New substitutes emerge.
Out of media attention at the moment is the emergence of fundamentalisms, many associated with religions, some with politics. Elsewhere the "self" becomes coterminous with greed and exploitation of other.
There are fundamentalists within every monotheism. Some drive the shatterings of peace in Israel/Palestine. Others drive it in Brooklyn (NY) neighborhoods. The FBI crashed into splinters in Waco, TX.
Further out of sight, Christianity sharply evolves toward literal interpretation of Swahili Bibles as well as American English Baptist versions.
The aging Pope holds tightly to a view of Catholicism repellant to many American and European Catholics which is very tightly resonant with third and fourth world Catholics, a burgeoning percentage of the Church, a burgeoning majority worldwide. The next Pontiff may be coloured, even.
No further comment is necessary related to the small percentage of Islam, especially Arab Islam, expanded by media and political advantage to condemn as if it were the whole of Islam. Perfect Other. Great enemy creation.
Reich's points are well taken and abundantly demonstrated. Others such as Daniel Quinn and John Lukacs make the essential points in many ways which converge. All of which brings me back to Morris Berman, Coming to Our Senses. I acknowledge that, for me, it means simply being who I am where I am.
People in general and in particular will hold tightly to their conditioning as split entities. I tell myself to just let it go and get on with the wonders of being who I am where I am.
Let's see if I can hold to intention this year.
· · · · · ·
Notes and References
1. Coming to Our Senses, Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1989, ISBN 0-671-66618-5 (back)
Differences That Make Differences. . .Patterns Which Connect, by Milo Clark (Oct. 2001)
Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, comes from a classic Eastern Establishment background culminated by a Harvard MBA. Perversely, however, he learned to think. Applying thought, he sees beyond and tries to write about what he sees. He now lives in the rainforest of non-tourist Hawaii near the lava flows.
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